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University System unveils plan for budget cuts

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton and Henry counties would be hit in more ways than one, if the University System of Georgia is forced to make an additional $300 million in budget cuts, as legislators are asking system officials to be prepared to do.

On the one hand, the pinch would be felt through possible faculty and program cuts at Clayton State University. But, the Georgia 4-H program, and the University of Georgia's Archway Partnership could be eliminated as well, according to a copy of the plan. In addition, half of the University of Georgia's county-level cooperative extension offices across the state could be closed, although locations have not been specified.

University System Chancellor Erroll B. Davis, Jr., said, in a letter sent Monday to higher education appropriations leaders in the Georgia General Assembly, that such large-scale cuts would significantly hurt the state.

Davis was asked by members of the State House of Representatives and State Senate Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittees last week to prepare a plan that shows what $300 million in budget cuts would look like.

Such a cut, if imposed, would be on top of a $265-million budget cut Gov. Sonny Perdue is already proposing for the university system in fiscal year 2011, according to Davis.

"Such a reduction would dramatically, and negatively, alter a university system in which the people of this state have invested so much," Davis wrote in his letter. "A reduction of this size is not in the best interest of Georgia, and its future economic development."

Davis is scheduled to meet with both subcommittees again today at the state Capitol in Atlanta, said University System Spokesman John Millsaps. If the governor's recommended cuts, as well as cuts the size suggested by legislators, are implemented, the university system would see its funding reduced by $565 million in fiscal year 2011.

Millsaps stressed that the university system's plan is for information only, and is not a recommendation for state leaders. He said members of the system's Board of Regents are aware of the plan Davis sent to legislators, but regents can not make firm decisions about what programs can be cut until the state's budget has been approved by the legislature.

Programs, services would be cut

Locally, Clayton State would shed $4.19 million in expenses, if the additional budget cuts are imposed as part of the state's fiscal year 2011 budget, according to a copy of the university's plan.

The actions CSU would have to take to meet that type of cut include cutting 24 faculty-and-staff positions; reducing course offerings by 168 sections; reducing funding for its dental hygiene program, which provides low-cost dental care to the community; eliminating the university's music composition program, and reducing the number of concerts and educational programs offered at Spivey Hall.

Clayton State Spokesman John Shiffert said CSU officials are declining to comment on the possible cuts, because it is not certain the cuts will be made.

Possible cuts at the University of Georgia could also have a direct impact in Clayton and Henry counties. Those cuts include the elimination of UGA's statewide 4-H program, closing 79 county-level cooperative extension offices, and doing away with Archway Partnerships in Clayton, Colquitt, Glynn, Hart, Pulaski, Washington, and Whitfield counties.

Clayton County Cooperative Extension Service Coordinator Kim Siebert, and Henry County Cooperative Extension Service Coordinator Susan Howington said their offices provide residents of Clayton and Henry counties with a variety of programs, including foreclosure education; the 4-H clubs, business education programs, and agribusiness support programs.

"We hit a lot of areas," Siebert said. "If our office was closed, they would be lost."

Howington added, "We're very uncertain about what's going to happen to us right now ... We try to educate people with lifelong lessons. We're going to keep our fingers crossed."

Clayton County Archway Partnership Community Liaison Gail Webb deferred questions about the partnerships possible elimination, to UGA Spokesman Thomas Jackson. Jackson could not be reached for comment.

Senator: Cuts are 'very Draconian'

Sen. Seth Harp (R-Midland), chairman of the State Senate's Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee, said the state will have an anticipated $2 billion budget shortfall this year, because of declining state revenues. He said Perdue has proposed $1.3 billion in cuts, leaving legislators with the task of cutting another $700 million in expenses.

"We have to make severe, and very deep cuts," he said. "We don't have any choice ... Everything is on the table, not because we want it to be -- we just don't have any money."

But, Harp called some of the university system's proposed cuts "very Draconian," and accused university presidents of "posturing" to get legislators to back off massive cuts to the university system. "What you're seeing is politics being played," Harp said. "They specifically picked programs that legislators would have a hard time cutting."

Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs), who is chairman of the Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee on the House side, could not be reached for comment.

But, according to Harp, legislators would like to see programs consolidated, and salary caps, and maybe even pay cuts imposed on highly paid university system employees.

He said a consensus between university system officials and the Senate and House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittees must be reached on how to cut expenses by the end of this week, before both full chambers of the General Assembly reconvene.

"If they don't make real cuts, then, we'll make them," Harp said. "I hate issuing threats, but if there is a program we like, we'll fund the program, and we'll take money out of the other programs."

Even though shuttering the statewide 4-H program, and half of UGA's extension offices was included in the plan, Harp said legislators would not tolerate recommendations to close such programs.

"The presidents have recommended cutting little programs, like the 4-H program, or the extension offices," Harp said. "Frankly, we're not going to accept that. There may have to be some reductions [in those programs], but not elimination."

Millsaps said the university system is trying to take a "Do no harm" approach to curriculum and instruction, however. He said programs that did not fit the core educational missions of university system institutions were given a lower priority.

"They were put in place to meet a need in communities throughout the state," Millsaps said. "In this new [economic] environment, though, serving those needs becomes secondary to maintaining core instructional programs."